CEO Welcome

As the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) embarks on its 42nd year of operation, I look forward to my first year with ACIAR – an organisation I have admired for many years. The opportunity to be the Chief Executive Officer of ACIAR is a tremendous honour. 

I first became involved with ACIAR nearly 17 years ago as a collaborating scientist on projects in Papua New Guinea, the Pacific region, Indonesia and Vietnam. At the time, as an agricultural economist and value chain analyst, I was tasked with understanding what was impeding smallholder households’ adoption of technologies and practices that would improve their access to high-value markets. 

I have observed firsthand the collaborative approach of ACIAR to research and extension, through in-country partnerships and on-the-ground involvement, and how this has created life-changing opportunities for millions of people. This work has been further amplified by the commitment of ACIAR to capacity building and the subsequent presence and influence today of highly trained in-country professionals. The impact of ACIAR over its 40-plus years is extraordinary. 

Many of the food security gains of recent decades face renewed pressure from climate change, conflict and what many fear will be an increasing incidence of pandemics. Resolving these complex modern-day challenges requires innovative and coordinated responses across industry, governments, academia and civil society, and significant new investment and expertise from across disciplines and sectors.

The ACIAR mandate 

I begin my term as the seventh CEO of ACIAR with a strong commitment to our enabling legislation. It remains as relevant to Australia’s contribution to agricultural research for development as it did in 1982. ACIAR has a mandate for a practical set of functions, which are to: 

  1. formulate programs and policies with respect to agricultural research to address problems in developing countries 
  2. commission agricultural research by persons or institutions in accordance with such programs and policies 
  3. communicate to persons and institutions the results of such research 
  4. establish and fund training schemes related to the research programs 
  5. conduct and fund development activities related to the research programs 
  6. fund international agricultural research centres. 

It is critical to remember that the primary beneficiaries of ACIAR investment and the target of our impact pathways are smallholder farmers, fishers and foresters in partner countries, as well as their households and communities. Smallholder farmers make critical contributions to global food security, and economic and political stability. Like all the world’s farmers, they are vulnerable to major global risk factors and multipliers – climate change, economic volatility and urbanisation. 

The ability of smallholder farmers to mitigate simultaneous risks has compounding effects on food system resilience and economic stability. Smallholder farmers typically have less capacity to manage these risks than farmers in developed countries for many reasons, including food insecurity, fewer resources (human and capital), land tenure and informal markets – to name a few. 

It is also important to acknowledge the benefits of our work to the agricultural innovation system in Australia. The outputs of ACIAR-supported research often benefit Australian primary industries through new knowledge and technologies that are equally applicable to Australia. These include new crop varieties and enhanced livestock genetics, better understanding of pests and diseases and subsequent biosecurity preparedness, and new technologies to manage natural environments such as coral reefs. Additionally, ACIAR-supported projects provide career development opportunities for many Australian scientists.

A national and international partner 

In developing our research initiatives and partnership models, in 2023–24 and beyond, ACIAR will continue to work closely with Australian Government partners, and to be guided by Australia’s International Development Policy, which was released in August 2023. We will also take into account the Development Partnership Plans, which are being developed by Australian Embassies and High Commissions across our region to deliver on the new policy. 

During 2023–24, ACIAR will fund more mission-directed cross-program research and capacity-building programs with our partners in the Indo-Pacific region. There will be a focus on new partnership models with partner countries that reflect their changing needs and growing capacity. Our work will augment the relationships and expertise of our ACIAR Country Network and the deep relationships with in-country partners, built over several decades. 

ACIAR will continue to partner multilaterally, including with international agricultural research centres, to ensure that Australia is an active, reliable and trusted funder of multilateral research for development institutions, and that these investments deliver the critical global public goods needed to address the complex issues of food security, climate change and economic transition in the Indo-Pacific region. 

I look forward to bringing my unique experiences and deep passion for agricultural research for development to ACIAR, to continue a tradition of making a difference to the lives of smallholder farmers, fishers and foresters, rural communities, extension experts and researchers in our partner countries in the Indo-Pacific region. 

Wendy Umberger 

Chief Executive Officer, ACIAR